Netflix is trying to resuscitate the rom-com. I remain unconverted. How does their latest attempt fare?
Lara Jane is about to be a junior in high school. Her older sister Margot has just left for college in Scotland, leaving behind a huge gap – a gap only grown wider because she broke up with her boyfriend Josh, literally the boy next door, before leaving, and he was an every day presence in their home – not least of all because he was Lara Jane’s friend and secret crush first. With Margot gone, it’s just Lara Jane and little sister Kitty, who isn’t afraid to call out her sister for being super lame and not having any weekend plans of her own. Their mother is dead so it’s just them and their dad.
But then something weird happens. Lara Jane’s old, secret crushes all receive letters from her. Letters that she wrote eons ago when the crushes were new and exciting but never, EVER, intended to send. Josh receives one, and so does Peter, Lara Jane’s first kiss but current boyfriend of her arch-enemy. Ah, high school. But she’s so desperate to avoid Josh that she consents to have a fake relationship with Peter in order to divert attention. It’s the kind of plan that can only seem reasonable to a 16 year old.
Lana Condor is all kinds of adorable as Lara Jane. She’s sweet and charming and nearly everything you’d want in a romantic lead in 2018 (dorky, smart, independent). Is adorkable a thing? It should be. Lara Jane is it. But just as 2018 demands a new kind of romantic lead, it also needs a new kind of boyfriend. No more brooding, distant, too-cool-to-give-a-shit guys. Peter Kavinsky is not just the floppy-haired, Jeep-driving boyfriend you want, he’s the kind of teddy bear you deserve – kind and thoughtful and loving. He puts more work into a fake relationship than every mopey 80s hunk or neurotic 90s hearthrob combined. 2018’s boyfriend ideal is in touch with his feelings, and he just wants you to be happy.
The movie takes no risks and offers no surprises. The two blandly handsome possible love interests, played by Noah Centineo and Israel Broussard, look similar enough that Sean couldn’t tell them apart. Sean is no teenage girl. Teenage girls, I bet, will have no problem choosing which one to swoon over (and apparently there IS a right answer). For me, this movie felt very Disney channel, and its constant 16 Candles references didn’t really earn it any favourable comparisons (in fact, it made Sean mourn some distinct missed opportunities). To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is not a rom-com for old ladies like me. It’s innocent in a lot of ways, but with a 2018 flavour that’s still alien to me. But I have no doubt it will find its audience – it’s just not going to be anyone born in the previous century, and not even John Corbett (no longer the leading man, relegated strictly to dad status) can change that.